December 14, 2017

The Modern Tongues Movement

J. B. Williams

The following article was published by Faith for the Family in the November / December 1974 issue. It is republished here by permission.

We at Proclaim & Defend believe it is important to understand the long-held biblical argument against the errors of the so-called Charismatic Movement. These views are rooted in the Bible and are helpful for us today. Dr. Williams does an excellent job exposing the errors and pointing towards biblical authority to denounce the false doctrine that continually is promoted by the Charismatic Movement.

What is the New Testament purpose for speaking in tongues? What are its guidelines? Does today’s tongues movement conform to the Biblical standard?

The modern charismatic movement, particularly the pseudo-tongues experience must be rejected for several reasons.

First, unsaved people from all religious backgrounds are reporting their charismatic experiences. This alone would prove that God is not in this movement. The Bible use of the charismatic gifts was by believers only. There is no record of any unsaved who were the recipients of these spiritual gifts.

Second, it is ecumenical in character and practice. Charismatic Catholics, as well as Protestants are joining hands in this movement, erasing all lines of distinction and overlooking fundamental doctrines of the Bible in their eagerness to prove their point. In June 1973, more than 20,000 Pentecostal Catholics gathered in the Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana. One of the featured speakers, a cardinal from Belgium, gave his enthusiastic approval of the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church. He said, “The charismatic renewal has extraordinary ecumenical implications. Many important breakthroughs are happening in a wonderful way in the charismatic renewal. It will be a great impetus for Christian unity. Christians of different churches need to experience themselves as belonging to the same family, as being brothers, and that is happening in the charismatic renewal.”

The same speaker, addressing the Presbyterian Charismatic Conference in March 1973 declared, “Our unity has to be done quickly because the Holy Spirit is leading it, God is desiring it, and the world is in need, badly in need, of that visible unity. I see the heads of the Christian churches coming together. Let us come back home. Home means the upper room, Pentecost again.” At the end of his speech a photograph was taken of the cardinal holding hands with two Presbyterian leaders singing “We are one in the Spirit.”

An Assembly of God preacher said of the movement, “We used to be leaders in experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit but not since the Spirit has visited the great historic and Protestant churches. I know an Episcopalian priest in this city who is so liberal he neither believes in the Virgin Birth, nor the Resurrection. Yet he has recently received the baptism in the Spirit and exhibits a marvelous power in his ministry.”

Third and most important, we must reject the charismatic movement because it is unscriptural. Those involved in the charismatic movement misunderstand several points of doctrine: not only is the baptism of the Holy Spirit received by all believers at the point of salvation but also the Scriptures never hint of a second experience called the baptism of the Spirit.

Three chapters on gifts

There are three chapters in the New Testament that name the gifts to the early church-Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12 — a careful study of these chapters will reveal the Scriptural teaching on the subject.

Beginning with Romans 12:6, there is a short list of some of these gifts. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is forth telling the contents of the Word of Truth and also foretelling the future. He continues, “Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.” This is the service rendered by those in what we call full-time Gospel work. Next Paul lists, “or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation” An exhorter is one who tries to get us to do that which we know we should already be doing. Then he says, “he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity [liberality].” One of the gifts of the Spirit has to do with giving. In addition to the tithe given to the local church, God enables some to accumulate wealth in order that they may give it to His work. Next the Apostle says, “He that ruleth, with diligence.” This speaks of leadership gifts in the local church. Finally he lists, “he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” This refers to ladies who accommodate visitors, prepare food, and perform other helpful tasks. The Lord has gifted some to help with this type of ministry. But this is only a partial list.

The second list appears in Ephesians 4, beginning with verse 11: “And he gave some, apostles.” This refers to the gifted men that God gave to the early church. The apostolic gift has not existed since the end of the first century when John the Apostle died. The apostles were spiritual dictators. In addition, they were endowed with a spiritual gift called an apostolic gift. “And some, prophets; and some, evangelists.” These are men who, in their ministry, are able to give the Gospel with an appeal to the unsaved. “And some, pastors and teachers.” The word for “pastor” literally means “shepherd.” The teacher-shepherd is one man. The reason for the giving of these gifted men to the church is found in the five verses that follow.

The third list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul says that the matter of spiritual gifts involves the whole Trinity, for in verses 4-6 he says, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh an in all.” Verse 7 is very important: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” Paul is saying not only that the Spirit indwells every believer but also that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every believer and the giving of the Spirit and these gifts is to profit. The gift is not merely to profit the one who receives the gift but is to benefit the whole body of Christ. If a person is trying to prove that some of the gifts make him more spiritual than someone else, then he is misusing and even abusing the plan of God in issuing spiritual gifts.

The list of these gifts begins in verse 8: “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom.” This means “through the instrumentality” of the Spirit. The word of wisdom is for use in counseling. “To another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” In the days before the completion of the New Testament canon, this gift was used in the function of the local church. This gift of knowledge came as a revelation from God so that the knowledge of God’s plan and will could be known. At the completion of the New Testament canon, there was no longer any need for this particular gift; therefore it was lifted.

The next gift is “to another faith by the same Spirit.” This faith is not saving faith; it is operational faith in the Christian life. “To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit. To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” The word for “tongues” literally means “the languages spoken by men.” Verse 11 is an important verse: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” Notice the word “will.” In the Greek language there are two basic words used for expressing will. One of them is “thelema,” which is God’s will that can be resisted. For example, “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). This is God’s will, His desire that all men be saved. Man can reject His salvation, doing it to his own detriment, but man can nevertheless reject this will.

However, in verse 11, a different word is used. This word is “boulomai.” This means God’s imposed will. The use of this word means that anyone who receives a gift of the Spirit does so, not because he desires it, but because the Spirit desires that he have it. Seeking spiritual gifts is completely out of line with the Scriptures. We are definitely not to seek these gifts. However, 1 Corinthians 12:31 reads, “But covet earnestly the best gifts.” This statement is not made to the individual; it is addressed to the local church. The local church is to covet the gifted men in its assembly; but for the individual to seek these gifts goes contrary to the use of the word for the “will of the Spirit” in verse 11.

Three categories of gifts

There are three categories of spiritual gifts: first, administrative gifts-gifts used in the administration of the work in the local church; second, functional gifts — gifts that are used to edify the body of believers (that is, the gifts of teaching and prophesying); third, the sign gifts, or sensational gifts-gifts used temporarily for a specific purpose which ceased when their purpose was completed. These gifts would include speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles, and knowledge.

Reasons for the gifts

There are two major reasons why these temporary gifts were given. First, they were given because the infant church had no New Testament canon. Can you imagine what turmoil there would be trying to function as a local church without the New Testament as a guide? The Lord remedied this situation by giving, these temporary gifts to the infant church; but when the New Testament was completed, these temporary gifts were no longer needed.

Second, these gifts were given to the early church to serve as a witness or a sign to confirm the Gospel message. God wanted to give proof of the Gospel message, and in order to do that He gave these sign gifts.

Three groups involved

This confirmation was given to three groups. First, it was given to the disciples or the apostles. Mark 16:15-18 reads, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” The Lord gave these words to confirm the Gospel message that the apostles would be preaching in the early church.

The disciples had been reared in Judaism and had been taught from childhood that only Jews were in favor with God and the Mosaic Law was the only way of salvation. Now, since the coming and the death of Jesus Christ, God was changing to the church age without any of the sacrifices and rites of the Mosaic Law. It was necessary for these disciples to be convinced that by simple faith in Jesus Christ, all men, including Gentiles, could be in full favor with God and that they would be saved and completely operating in God’s plans.

The second group to which this confirmation of temporary gifts was given was the infant church. These temporary signs were used to confirm the identity of the apostles to the infant churches; for the apostles, having the apostolic gift, were spiritual dictators acting directly by the hand of the Lord. No one else had the power and the authority that was given to these men. In the absence of a New Testament canon, God made the revelation of His plan and program through them. These men had unusual gifts that would prove to the churches their identity as apostles.

Paul had trouble with the Corinthian church which was being influenced by Judaizers from Jerusalem. Some members of the church did not want to accept Paul as an apost.1e. In 2 Corinthians 12:11-12, he proves his apostleship: “For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” He was offering the proof of his apostleship by the signs and wonders that he did. But when there were no longer any apostles, these apostolic gifts ceased.

The third group for which sign gifts were used as a confirmation was the unsaved Jews. There were three signs given to the Jews, These signs should have been recognized by them. The first was the virgin birth foretold in Isaiah 7:14. The second was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Christ for a sign, He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The third sign given to the Jews was the gift of speaking in tongues. Between Pentecost and A. D. 70 God, in His grace, was trying to reach the Jewish nation. He was using miraculous means to do so. One of these means was the gift of tongues.

There are, in fact, four times in the history of the Jewish nation when God used miracles to speak to His people. First, when Moses delivered the people from Pharaoh’s hands, miracles were wrought to prove to the people and to Pharaoh that God was delivering them from slavery. The second was during the lifetime of Elijah and Elisha. He empowered these two prophets to work miracles. The people should have known that God was confirming their message, but they did not turn from their apostasy; God led them away into Babylonian captivity. The third time was when the Lord Jesus performed miracles, proving to the people that he was from God. The fourth and final period of miracles was in the early church era from Pentecost until A. D. 70. God was using signs to plead with the nation of Israel to return to Him. Since they did not, He led them away into a worldwide dispersion.

The gift of tongues, therefore, along with some of the other sign gifts, was used as a means of evangelizing the unsaved Jew. On the day of Pentecost there were Jews from at least 12 different places of the Mediterranean world. They were astonished to hear the unlearned disciples speak to them in the languages of the nations from which they came. Someone even accused the disciples of being drunk. Peter assured them that they were not drunk, but that it was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul says, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” Thus, God gave the Jews signs. One of these was speaking in tongues. The intention for the use of tongues is very plain. It was used to present the Gospel to the unconverted Jews and was not to be used among believers. Any attempt to use the tongues gift today for any other purpose is out of line with the Scriptures.

Better than gifts

In concluding 1 Corinthians 12, Paul asks some questions: “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” Obviously not. Why then should all believers be required to possess these various gifts in our day? He continues, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” Paul is on the verge of showing something far better than the employment of the gifts he had listed, especially the secondary gifts.

The more excellent way is found in chapter 13; Christian charity [love]. Paul’s argument is that it is better to have Christian love because of the characteristics of love. Fifteen different characteristics are listed, and each of these would produce something better· for Christian character than the sensational employment of spiritual gifts. His point is that it is better to have Christian love than the secondary gifts because of the permanency of love. Christian love will be present on the earth during all of the Christian age. Some of these gifts will no longer be operative. “Charity never faileth.” “Faileth” means “to fall short.” Again “but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” This is speaking of the gift of prophecy. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” This is speaking of the gift of tongues. The Greek word “cease” literally means “to cause to be stopped.” “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” This is the special revelation given to certain members of the church before the completion of the New Testament canon. In ages past, God has spoken· to men through visions and dreams. In our day, He speaks through the revelation of His Word. In verse 9 Paul exclaims, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” The word “perfect” in this instance means “completion,” and the information is that when the New Testament·comes, it will be the completion. The temporary gifts will then cease.

Paul uses two illustrations as analogies. One is as a child, reacting as a child, then putting away childish things when he becomes a man. As long as the early church had the gifts of the Spirit it was in its infancy, but when the Bible came the things of infancy were put away. The second analogy is that of looking into a mirror. Verse 13 concludes, “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” The question arises, “Why is love greater than the other two?” The answer is simple. Faith and hope benefit self. Love benefits others.

A phony movement

The gift of tongues has been lifted because there is no longer any need for it. The modern tongues movement is phony. The question constantly arises, “Why do people become involved in the charismatic movement and in particular tongues?”·First, it is self-hypnosis, which is dangerous because of the demonic activity that can become involved. Second, many are seeking to validate an unsatisfied spiritual experience. Unsaved people who are active in dead religious churches, upon hearing about the wonderful feeling that someone has had, are inclined to attempt the experience themselves. Third, they misunderstand two truths: the evidence of salvation .and the evidence of spirituality. Salvation is never the experiencing of tongues, feelings, miracles, nor healings; and spirituality is based upon being filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit does not produce the charismatic gifts. Spirituality cannot be equated with emotion or traumatic experiences of any kind. The fourth reason for involvement is the un-scriptural emphasis that is laid upon empiricism; that is, the desire for experiences, feelings, aesthetics, and so forth. This also helps explain the appearance of existentialism and the Jesus-freak movement. However, the main reason why people are involved in this movement is that they do not understand the Scriptures. The Scripture reveals the plans of God and the reasons for all such matters, and they just do not see it in the correct light of the Bible. Lovely people may be involved in it, but they are wrong. It is very divisive, confusing, and can bring nothing but harm to the cause of Jesus Christ.


The late J. B. Williams, was a deputation secretary for Baptist Mid-Missions. He served in the ministry for many years, including five years in Africa as a pioneer missionary, establishing a Bible school and local churches. He also reduced the Bariba language to writing and translated the Gospel of John into that language.

First published by Faith for the Family November / December 1974. Republished here by permission.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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